- "I never took up the sword, I think the sword took me up."
- ―Bob Anderson
Bob Anderson, born Robert James Gilbert Anderson (September 15, 1922—January 1, 2012) was an English Olympic fencer, and a renowned film fight choreographer, with a cinema career that spanned more than 50 years and included films such as Highlander, The Princess Bride, The Mask of Zorro, The Lord of the Rings and Die Another Day.
Anderson was regarded as the premier choreographer of Hollywood sword-fighting, and during his career he coached many actors in swordsmanship, including Errol Flynn, Sean Connery, Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp. He also appeared as a stunt double for Darth Vader's lightsaber battles in Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Bob Anderson was the Sword Master in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Born in Hampshire, England, Bob Anderson joined the Royal Marines and won several combined services titles in the sport of fencing. He served in the Mediterranean during World War II. As a competitive fencer, he represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games in 1952 and the World Championships in 1950 and 1953 in the sabre event. He finished tied for fifth in the team sabre event at Helsinki in 1952.
- "I'm the sword master, and I started in 1952 with Errol Flynn, on The Master of Ballantrae. That gives me 50 years of service in the film industry."
- ―Bob Anderson
Bob Anderson's cinema career began in 1953 when he choreographed fights for and coached Errol Flynn in The Master of Ballantrae. During rehearsal for a scene he accidentally slashed Flynn on his thigh, leading to notoriety in Hollywood as "the man who stabbed Errol Flynn". He went on to work as a stunt performer and/or fight choreographer in films such as The Guns of Navarone and the Bond films From Russia With Love and Casino Royale. His stature in Hollywood was cemented when he was selected by Stanley Kubrick in 1974 to act as the sword master for Barry Lyndon.
Anderson did not receive much recognition for his role as doubling for Darth Vader in the Star Wars films for years after their initial release, in part because David Prowse was so lauded for his portrayal that director George Lucas did not want to detract from the boost it gave the actor's career. In a 1983 interview, however, Mark Hamill paid homage to Anderson's contribution, saying: "Bob Anderson was the man who actually did Vader's fighting. It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told George I didn't think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It's ridiculous to preserve the myth that it's all done by one man."
For the next thirty years, Anderson continued to work in cinema and was responsible for the swordsmanship in many films. Among his credits as a fight choreographer and fencing coach are The Three Musketeers, First Knight, The Mask of Zorro, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Pirates of the CaribbeanEdit
- "Bob Anderson understood acting with a sword. He said, 'Just because it gets faster doesn't mean it's better. You know that as an actor. It's the beats in between.'"
- ―Geoffrey Rush
Sometime after his contribution to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bob Anderson had worked as the Sword Master for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. To maximize authenticity in the film, all of the actors playing pirates and some playing British naval officers spent weeks training with stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge and sword master Bob Anderson, who Ruge originally met while working on The Mask of Zorro. "Bob is a legendary sword master," said Ruge. "When he arrived in Los Angeles, the fight choreography was basically done, but I wanted the actors to have a chance to meet him and work with him just to give them that extra ten percent that only Bob can give because he's been doing it for 50 years. No one else has that expertise or spark. It was well worthwhile. Just the idea that the actors knew Bob's history and the fact that he's the best in the business, a legendary sword master, made them excited about training."
As luck would have it, Orlando Bloom (Will Turner) had already spent time with both Ruge and Anderson on Lord of the Rings. "It was great to work with Bob again," said Bloom of Anderson's involvement in The Curse of the Black Pearl. "I'd done some fencing when I was in drama school in London, but working with someone as proficient as Bob is quite a different matter. I mean, this is the guy who trained Errol Flynn!" Actor Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa) also complimented on Anderson's understanding of "acting with the sword".
During Anderson's brief time with the actors, Ruge made certain he went over the fundamentals and imparted as much of his technical skill as possible. Learning to be a pirate was not only about imitating the swagger and demeanor of a brigand, it was a serious study in brandishing a boarding cutlass or rapier. "Pirates films are my favorite," said Anderson. "But modern fencing, like the competitions you see in the Olympic Games, is highly technical and very precise in its actions, unlike screen fighting which is choreographed in such a way that the combatants make the action as large as they can for the camera. But whether it's ancient or modern swordplay, you start by learning to hold the sword properly and to manipulate it for attack and defense. And even though we use aluminum replicas, I’m religious about safety because working with any sword is dangerous."
"Swordplay is a conversation," he explained. "The opponents talk to each other with their blades. The style of fighting varies with each character. If I can make the sword work talk about what’s happening in the script in the same way the dialogue conveys the story, then I feel I've succeeded."
For unknown reasons, Bob Anderson didn't return to choreograph in the subsequent Pirates sequels as Thomas DuPont, who was credited as Geoffrey Rush's stunt double in The Curse of the Black Pearl, was credited as the Sword Master. In the 2009 documentary film Reclaiming the Blade, Bob Anderson shared his experiences working with Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow) on the choreography for The Curse of the Black Pearl. He described that Depp's ability as an actor to pick up the sword to be "about as good as you can get." It was in this documentary that Bob commented, "I never took up the sword, I think the sword took me up."
Retirement and deathEdit
After his retirement from fencing competition, Anderson emigrated to Canada, where he went on to become technical director of the Canadian Fencing Association. Anderson died on New Year's Day 2012 in a West Sussex hospital, at the age of 89.